RogerBW's Blog

The Book of the Dead, Elizabeth Daly 05 April 2017

1944 mystery; eighth of Daly's books of Henry Gamadge, book expert and amateur investigator. Mr Crenshaw arrived in New York, settled his affairs and died of leukemia, with no relatives to be informed; but a casual acquaintance didn't like the look of his servant, and asks Gamadge to dig into the matter.

This is the first of the Gamadge books I've read, and it's an oddly flat place to start the series. Gamadge is well-established, with friends among the police and plenty of money to employ private detectives when he can't be in multiple places at once; he takes the case essentially on a whim, then continues with it for one of the traditional pulp-detective reasons, but although he is attacked one rarely gets the sense that he feels particularly involved. It's more of an intellectual puzzle with the risk of death if he gets it wrong.

This is a wartime book, and war has come to New York, though the main effect (apart from vaguely-mentioned "war work" which keeps Gamadge in employment when he feels like it) is that people don't have ready access to fuel for their cars, so various journeys have to be made by public transport. The action begins in New York City, then moves to the Vermont countryside, and there seem to be multiple plots going on: not only is the servant Pike a bit of a dubious character with no clear antecedents, the doctor who was in charge of Crenshaw for his last few weeks clearly has his own secrets, the widow who suddenly shows up doesn't seem particularly grief-stricken, and in the last few chapters all sorts of assumptions get overturned.

She gave the impression of being quite lovely; but the loveliness consisted of fine dark hair curling on her flawless neck, luminous eyes, and a skin whose coral tint was not applied. These might desert her when she was older; Gamadge thought that a certain quality—only to be described as magnetic—would never leave her while she lived.

I'll admit I was pretty much lost; there are some clues here, but most of them are deliberate misdirection, while Gamadge's stabs in the dark always turn out to be correct in spite of an apparent lack of logic, and with certain key information denied to the reader.

Still, the writing style was pleasing, and I'll probably give Gamadge another try. Followed by Any Shape or Form.

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